The Bounty

by Joanne Grier

 

It was an ordinary day Below with only an evening recital scheduled to break the routine of winter life.  The temperature was cool, but not as bitterly cold as it was in the world Above.  William was known for his magical tricks of producing delicious treats to accompany the music.  How he managed those delectable sweets was a mystery, but all the citizens were extremely pleased by his ability to surprise and delight their palettes.

William collected his gang of assistants, this week totaling nearly twelve of the oldest boys, and they began their long trek toward the surface.  The Mallon warehouse had long been a gathering spot for their Helpers to collect and store food and produce for William’s large kitchen.  Weekly, he and his gang of assistants, made the long walk with ease; but the return trip took twice as long, as they struggled to bring down the food necessary for their survival.  Long, wheeled flatbed hand trucks had been created for use in transferring their food.  Pushing those over the rough surface of the tunnels floors was certainly not a job for the weak.  Often it took three assistants to push one flat bed up and down the various levels until they reached the home community.

The work was arduous and required brute force to transfer the large amounts of food Below.  In spite of the intense labor, the gang was always in high spirits as they were the first to get a peek at what possible delights they would have for meals in the coming days.  Knowing this was always highly coveted information, the gang loved the spotlight status this knowledge gave them after they returned home from their labors.  Working for William earned them bragging rights within their peer group.

Lately, they had been receiving large industrial size cans of soups and vegetables which were quite heavy to transport.  A case of four such cans in a box weighed nearly fifteen pounds, so to transfer those took extra man hours and many trips.

Delights of glee and eager laughter brought William to a gang of boys who were laughing and pointing toward a skid located on the ground.  “What?”  William hustled through the crowd and his joyful exclamations joined with his assistants. “We’ll have to use this immediately.”  Scooping up these wondrous treasures was quickly accomplished.

The work progressed and after one last check of the freezers and refrigerators located in the warehouse, William and his assistants began the long trek home.  As they walked, William pondered how he would use their delightful gifts.

Outside the large communal dining hall a hand lettered sign was prominently displayed.  Father was reading the sign when Vincent arrived and placed his hand on his shoulder, tilting forward to read along with him. “What on earth to you suppose William has planned with these instructions for our meal tonight?”

“Whatever it is, I’m not going to miss it.  Some of my students were discussing the items they brought down from the warehouse today, and I think we are in for a treat of huge proportions.”

Following the sign’s instructions, Vincent and Jacob took seats on the outer perimeter of the hall instead of in their usual location.  In the center of the hall were two long tables pushed together and draped with sheets to conceal their contents.

In the large outer passage, shuffling feet would pause to read the sign, then slowly all the residents filed into the hall.  The main buzz, clearly repeated as the citizens came in was, “What’s going on?  Why must we change seats?”

When the hall was finally full and all the citizens had taken their seats, William appeared and called for silence.

“We have been especially blessed today by our Helpers in their gifts of food. After we have eaten our meal, I wish to ask that everyone remain seated.  The recital will need to start thirty minutes later than scheduled, which I hope you will find acceptable after you have witnessed our joyous bounty from Above.  OK, let’s bring out our meal so everyone can enjoy themselves.” 

Those who were assigned to kitchen duty that evening began the task of carrying trays of food to each table.  Bowls were passed and plates filled as the meal progressed. Because all the citizens realized the cost of their Helpers’ generosity in providing such bounty, there was little if any garbage left over from any meal served.  Empty plates were passed and stacked at one end of each table while silverware was stacked at the opposite end.  The kitchen staff swept through the hall putting the dirty dishes on trays and hauled them back to the washing area of the kitchen. Knives and forks were collected and taken to another washing station within William’s vast kitchen.

Some of the harder work had already been completed. Since William believed in the ‘clean as you cook theory’, much of the heavy cleaning was already accomplished. The kitchen staff increased by ten, and together they made quick work of washing dishes and utensils.  After a quick look around the kitchen, William dismissed his assistants to return to the hall so that they, too, could enjoy the bounty.

Carrying a small pot and wooden spoon with him, William began to beat the pot, and after several minutes the hall became silent.  “Thank you everyone.  As I mentioned, we were indeed blessed today with treasures from Above, as our Helpers supplied a wide variety of treats today. Unfortunately, several of them are not of the varieties that have a long shelf life, so we are forced to consume them tonight.

“As you saw from my sign, I asked that tonight we be seated with those who have been married the longest seated in the center and then fanning out to those married the shortest time.  Those of us who are not married are seated on the perimeter.

“If memory serves me correctly, Mr. and Mrs. Morgan celebrated their forty-fifth wedding anniversary recently.  Has anyone been married longer than that?”  Looking around the hall, he saw that no one raised a hand.  “Good then we may proceed.

“Vincent, where are you?  If you’d make your way up here, and Cullen, if you, too, would join us, I shall also need your assistance.”  The two men moved through the crowd to reach William’s side.

“If you would, each take one end of the sheet and carefully raise it to reveal our bounty.”  All conversation ceased as everyone strained forward eager to see what was hidden from view.  Several people on the outer perimeter rose to stand in order to get a better view.

“Oh, how wonderful. It’s beautiful.”  The comments flowed across the hall as the bounty was revealed.

Arranged on the tables were three rather large fully decorated wedding cakes.  The tallest was four tiers tall and the smallest was only two tiers.  On either end of the tables were dishes filled with assorted mints, nuts and small molded candies.

“There was a note from Mr. Jacobsen telling us that a wedding was canceled and the bride’s family did not want any of the food for which they had paid.  So rather than allowing it to go to waste, he froze it and then had it taken to the warehouse for our use.  We also received enough cooked chicken and large roasts to ensure we’ll have plenty of meat for our future meals.

“Would Mr. and Mrs. Morgan please come forward and cut the first slices?  If any of our other married couples would like to slice some cake, please come forward.”  Eyes brimming with tears, Mrs. Morgan placed her hand on the knife her husband held and together they cut the first slice.  Several other brides and grooms came forward to reenact their own long ago cake slicing, and before the last couple were handed the knife, the sound of soft joyful weeping could be heard.

“I would,” William’s voice rose to be heard over the chatter, “like to propose that we take the example of this bounty and turn it into a tunnel tradition.  I propose that each year we have a twice yearly anniversary party to celebrate the many happy and long marriages we have in our community.  We have a monthly celebration for birthdays so why not two more holidays to celebrate our many happy marriages?  I can’t promise I will be able to replicate these cakes in the future, but I shall certainly do my best to create something befitting the joyous occasion.”

Happy voices rose in agreement and it was quickly decided that Olivia and Mary would work to select a committee to plan the events. 

It had been a long time since the community had sufficient dessert where the slices were so generous and seconds were available.  Tonight was such a night and the hall rang with lively conversation and happy chatter.

Sitting with his customary pot of tea, William smiled at the now spotless dining hall.  Before him was the last slice of cake, and with great glee, he picked up his fork.  The light delicate flavors melted on his tongue and his smile broadened.  As he picked up his now empty plate, he whispered into the stillness, “God bless us everyone.”

 

The End

 

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